Global Politics

The Threat of Far-right Extremism in Europe

European authorities say they're taking a closer look at home-grown, far-right extremist groups in the wake of Friday's twin attacks in Norway. Most European counter-intelligence work has focused on Islamic extremism in the past ten years. But the current economic crisis, combined with a backlash against immigration in recent years, has put governments on alert.

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

It's not as if European police have ignored the threat from the far right. Europe's extremist groups have been gaining followers in recent years, especially in north and central Europe. But there were only five recorded terrorist attacks associated with these groups in the past four years, according to Rob Wainwright, director of the Europe-wide counter-intelligence police agency, Europol. "So it's very low compared to what we've been monitoring with Jihadi terrorism, for example."

But Wainwright said the far right, if not violent, has been very active in organizing and expanding.

"There have been signs of increasing professionalism among right-wing extremists, for instance, the way they use the internet, social media, to attract younger generations, mobilize bigger populations in this area," he said. "We're seeing now across a number of countries some emerging signs, even before this attack, of professionalism and activism."

In the wake of the Norway attacks, Wainwright said his agency, with its teams of researchers and analysts, is now assisting Norway in its investigation.

"We're trying to bring to bear what we think are our unique capabilities," he said, including an international database of terrorist suspects and the ability to track financing. They're now looking for international leads that might be connected to case.

Authorities are now investigating claims by Anders Behring Breivik, the sole person arrested in the Norway attacks, that he was working with two other terrorist cells. Breivik himself wrote in a manifesto he published just before the killings that he'd attended a meeting of like-minded extremists in Britain as far back as 2002.

Matthew Goodwin, an expert on British far-right extremism at Nottingham University, has been reading the manifesto. He said even if Breivik acted alone, it's clear he's been in touch with someone. His ideas, according to Goodwin, could have come straight from the playbook of the British far-right, for instance, "the emphasis on a forthcoming clash of civilization with Muslim communities, the need to take radical violent action, the observation that far right parties are not making progress enough."

The similarities alarm counter-intelligence authorities, and bring investigators back to the internet, where most ideas are shared. Online this week, some extremists are cheering the Norway massacre. Others say more time bombs are about to go off. While that may seem ominous, the good news for investigators, according to Europol's Rob Wainwright, is that Europe's far-right movement usually makes lots of noise.

"I think the footprint on the internet is relatively visible," he said. "They have, it would seem, almost a PR agenda. Propaganda is very important."

Breivik kept a low profile, online and in person, until last Friday. Europol and the EU's counter-terrorism office now urge governments to be vigilant not just of suspected Muslim terrorists, but of anti-Muslim ones, too.